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Thread: Cleaning vintage tools

  1. #1

    Cleaning vintage tools

    I have an opportunity to pick up some old Stanleys in what appear to be good condition, but which are absolutely filthy. Assuming I dry and oil them immediately after, are there any major downsides to giving them a scrub with some dish soap and warm water? (Cue a thousand cast-iron skillet enthusiasts lining up to throw things at me...)

  2. #2
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    I don't know about cast iron frying pans..I prefer to cook in mine, but throwing it? Maybe when it becomes a new Olympic sport!
    There are any number of posts about cleaning old tools on this and many other sites.
    I generally don't use soap and water on cast iron, and especially on old wooden planes, but I am no expert.
    Just go back a few pages and look at any post that begins with "Rust hunt.." and you will find a hist of information.
    Young enough to remember doing it;
    Old enough to wish I could do it again.

  3. #3
    Stiff bristle brush for the loose stuff
    Simple green and a scotch brite pad or 000 steel wool for the staining/gunk
    See what you've got after that and assess.

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    I have had good luck with ballistol and a brush for general crud and gunk. It used to clean firearms, but works great on tools too. Plus it helps prevent rusting.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Tyler Bancroft View Post
    I have an opportunity to pick up some old Stanleys in what appear to be good condition, but which are absolutely filthy. Assuming I dry and oil them immediately after, are there any major downsides to giving them a scrub with some dish soap and warm water?
    a few caveats:

    assuming you're talking planes -- disassemble first.

    Simple Green, Krud Kutter, etc. are probably more effective than dish soap, but it'll do.

    use an old toothbrush or fingernail brush and very hot water.

    After washing, you would ideally blow out threaded holes with hair dryer or compressed air.

    In the absence of these, you could towel dry and set in the oven at low temp for a few minutes.

    Lastly, this is one of the few places where WD-40 makes sense -- it is a Water Displacing formulation and will prevent flash rusting

  6. #6
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    In the absence of these, you could towel dry and set in the oven at low temp for a few minutes.

    Lastly, this is one of the few places where WD-40 makes sense -- it is a Water Displacing formulation and will prevent flash rusting
    Do the WD-40 before the oven or maybe not. It may be the humidity in my area but the oven treatment tends to cause flash rusting.

    Before being able to determine the best treatment for any particular piece one must evaluate the item.

    Some items are easy to clean with just a dry stiff bristle brush and a little elbow grease. Other items may need more abrasion with a wire wheel or other mechanical means.

    Next would be the use of mild acids like citric acid or strong acetic acid (vinegar). For the strong vinegar look in the cleaning section of large grocery stores. The citric acid is available at wine making suppliers. Some people have also used powdered lemonade mixtures.

    There are also commercial rust removers available.

    The next step for extreme rust removal would be reverse electrolysis.

    Here is a very old post of mine on rehabilitating an old plane > https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?114373

    There are links to other plane rehab posts here > https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?103805

    Since rehabbing the old #7 a few new techniques have been tried.

    Here is a post on my most recent block plane rehab > https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?291780

    In this one an entirely different (for me) approach was taken, a chisel with a 90 bevel was used. Other folks who work on metal might consider this as a sort of scraping. This was followed with a Scotchbrite™ pad.

    That should be enough ideas to keep you busy for a while.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 09-27-2021 at 12:13 PM.
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  7. #7
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    I once upon a time bought a Bailey in a size I didn't own for two dollars - appeared to be encrusted with horse manure. I did start on that one with a hoof pick to expose the heads of the threaded fasteners. I did wash it in soap and water. I rinsed it with a fair bit of isoprolyl alcohol and then set it on the hearth in front of my (running ) wood stove. I did get a little flash rush here and there, but the previous owner had been smart enough to oil the plane up fairly well before he said whatever it was he said to his wife that lead to the event, and the bit of flash rush I did get sanded off fairly easily.

  8. #8
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    I would always take them completely apart then scrub them in hot soapy water, then dry them and spray with WD40. Following that I wipe them down to remove the oil and treat the bare metal parts with Sandflex rubber abrasive blocks.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  9. #9
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    Sometimes, on those wood bodied tools....a scrub down with Murphy's Oil Soap seems to do rather nicely...
    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

  10. #10
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    https://youtu.be/P6-zQSFUl84

    Very successful on all of my planes.

    With wooden ones I (if I can't figure any other way) scrape it with the back side of a chisel, bevel held with fingers, carefully!! and/or clean it with mineral spirits, or, as the last act of desperation, say effit and sand it down to new wood as a last resort. Make it look factory new. I like the scraping, truthfully but have to *really* tread carefully so I don't dig a mark and so ruin the day.
    I use CA or Titebond in checks and cracks-judiciously-and I like to finish them off with Howard Good Stuff. Tried BLO on one and didn't like it as much.
    Here's some of the fleet:

    20210917_024502.jpg

    Jack hasn't been done yet, but the other two are done how I described.
    What's nice is as someone on a poor income, they come cheap. The most I paid was $20. And I got good at sharpening as described in the vid.. they all split hair and work excellently. Wax the sole = effortless gliding.

    I love to see them taking shape plus I'm getting an education on the respective tool companies of the time.

  11. #11
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    There is a lot of good information above. I do many of the things mentioned and use most of the products.
    I have found Purple Power cleaner-degreaser to work well.

    Here is some more good reading on tool cleaning and restoration:
    https://www.ukworkshop.co.uk/forums/hand-tools.11/

    Regards,
    Phil

  12. #12
    Join Date
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    WD 40 is a solvent, so in addition to displacing water it will dissolve some crud, grime and the like.

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